Essay: Went to Town to Get Supplies

First posted in August, 2006

It's been a right fine sort of day. Productive, too. "Went to town to get supplies1," and came home with lots of great stuff - some we wanted, some we needed, all of it lovely.

People who live Outside are always asking about where I get stuff, what's available in a town of less than a thousand situated one hundred miles from the nearest "big" city, so I figured I write something up on the subject.


People always want to know how many restaurants there are here. Honestly, I couldn't say. In the winter there are only three or four, but in the summer Skagway blossoms to become the seventeenth busiest cruise ship port in the entire world, so a few more places open up. At least ten, probably more. But anyway, one of the awesome little spots that's open year-'round is Haven Cafe, a coffee shop with wireless and nummy breakfast sandwiches. I had my favorite this morning, a Southwestern, which is basically an egg sandwich on focaccia bread run through the panini press. It's got some other stuff on it that makes it 'Southwestern,' but I can't remember what just now. Had a nice non-fat latte with it, too. Mmm.

Health-giving workouts!

We have a recreation center that's really great, particularly given the size of the year-round population here (allegedly 836, but I think that's a bit inflated). There's a weight room, a cardio room (ellipticals, treadmills, recumbent bikes, stairmasters), a spin room (with classes), a yoga/pilates/dance studio (also with classes), a climbing wall, a basketball court (also used for roller blade hockey), an outdoor winter ice rink, and an outdoor skate park.

We also discovered just today that there's a ping pong table. We meant to play before leaving the gym, but forgot. Next time. Anyway, got a good run and weight set in, which always makes me feel good and sets me up for a great day.

Vegetables! (And other groceries...)

One of the top two questions I get is "do you have a grocery store and, if so, what can you get there?" We have two, actually. Both are quite small. One is maybe twice the size of my two-bedroom house, the other is perhaps half that. I mostly frequent the smaller one, which caters - believe it or not - to vegetarians. Most everything in this store is organic, environmentally lower-impact, etc. It's more expensive, but I feel better about supporting it, and I don't have to look at the labels quite so hard in there.

One of the harshest bits about eating in Alaska (besides paying over $5/gallon for milk), is the availability and cost of produce, so I belong to something the natural foods grocery calls The Produce Club. Basically, they order a bunch of produce in bulk on the promise that I'll come get a big bag of stuff on a particular day (about every couple of weeks). You never know what's going to be in the bag, but it's always great, and it comes discounted. Today was the day to pick up our produce, and the entire trip to town was scheduled for today because of this. (In the bag this fortnight: avocado, some miscellaneous sweet peppers, cilantro, dill, parsley, a grapefruit, some bananas, pears, russet potatoes, salad greens, two ears of corn on the cob, a very cute little cantaloupe, and some string beans).

We were able to fill most of our list at You Say Tomato (the name of the natural foods store), but then swung past the bigger grocery for things like Ziploc bags, toilet paper, club soda, and (non-vegan) mayonnaise. Between the two groceries we generally get everything we need, though on occasion we'll make a 110 mile drive to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada for other stuff - Whitehorse has 20,000 people, and thus far more amenities, but on a week-to-week basis we can get most of what we need right here.

Mail! (With goodies from the Internet...)

The other question I get, right after groceries, is "how often do you get mail and does it cost a lot for me to send stuff to you?" I get mail six days a week, but there's no mail delivery here, so I have to swing past my post office box to get it, which means I get mail more like, oh, once a week. Maybe. Yakutat was the same way. Luxuries like FedEx and UPS are quite spendy here, but US Mail is the same price as it is pretty much anywhere, and Amazon ships free to me just like they will anywhere else in the States. Today in the post we got some books: The Dark is Rising series, one fiction book and one non-fiction book authored by a college professor of mine (William Bass), Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies, and A Mile in Her Boots - a book about women who work in the outdoors. A couple of NetFlix arrived, too - Cool Hand Luke and a disc of Northern Exposure. I've never seen Northern Exposure (seriously), and I'm getting sick of people's third-most-asked-question, which is "Hee hee - is your town like that town on Northern Exposure?" I have to keep telling people that I don't know, and then they're shocked that I've never seen an episode, so now I'll be able to answer them. Phew.

Wine! (And port... and beer...)

We'd attended a wine tasting a month or so ago, and ordered stuff we'd liked. It came in late last week, so it was time to pick it up.

I don't know if they do this sort of thing outside of small Alaskan towns, but the last two small Alaskan cities in which I've lived (you Lower Forty-Eighters like to call such places "villages") have these charity wine tastings, where the door cover goes toward a good cause, and once inside you taste wine from a variety of distributors and have the opportunity to order what you want. Cases are procured at a pretty good discount, and the wine arrives in a few weeks, available for pickup at a liquor store in town. I doubt they do this sort of thing in places where you can just casually stroll into the store on any given day and buy a case of this or that, but in a small, somewhat remote town, it works well.

We bought a case of 2005 Maryhill Winery (Columbia Valley) Voignier, a case of 2005 El Portillo (Valle de Uco, Argentina) Malbec, a couple of bottles of 2003 Maryhill Winery Sangiovese, and three bottles of Sandeman Founder's Reserve Port.

I also procured two bottles of a unique little wine I found a couple of weeks ago - Denali Winery Pinot Noir. One bottle's for me, one's for my friend Emily, who's mother collects wine from each of the fifty states. This was the first time I'd seen an Alaskan wine, so thought I'd send a bottle her way. Granted, the grapes are imported from the lower forty-eight, but the wine itself is bottled and distributed at the foot of the Chugach Mountains in Anchorage, and Emily and I decided that such a technicality shouldn't dissuade us from adding an "Alaskan" wine to her mum's collection.

Also picked up a bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter beer, which was a special thing they did in late 2005 and basically tastes like summer sausage in a bottle - heavy, yummy, not something you throw back all evening long. I was pleased to see they still had some around.

Along with the usual assortment of Alaskan Amber beer and cocktail-crafting odds and ends, this turned out to be a pretty hefty bill, but we won't buy wine for, well, a year or two, I suppose. Given where I live, it's easier to just have a bottle on hand for when unexpected company appears, because you can't just run down to the corner for something.

I am having some of the port right now as I write this. It's very good. Hooray.

Library books!

We went by the Skagway library today and finally got our library cards. They were nice enough to give Sam one based on my driver's license and my solemn word that I was married to him (since he's still in the process of immigrating). It's a rather smallish library, but they let you check out audio books and videos and DVDs, and they actually do have interlibrary loan for those occasional research projects, so it's worth a visit. Sam checked out a copy of Watchmen and I came home with Frankfurt's essay On Bullshit, which I'd perused in a bookstore awhile back but refused to buy (Sam said it was worth a read).


People rarely ask me about furniture, but I did buy an armoire today, so...

Basically, you can't count on finding the furniture you need here, and generally you should plan to go to Whitehorse (110 miles by road, with a customs crossing) or Juneau (100 miles by ferry or prop-plane) to find what you need. But there's a hardware store here, and there's a little-used room upstairs that always contains odds and ends. Last week I noticed this funky little armoire in there. You open it, and inside there's a slide-out desk and electrical outlets and some small flat shelves and, well, it basically struck me as a neat workspace for Sam's illustration work. He's been blowing up the kitchen table with drawings and ink and pens and erasers and pencils and anatomy books and, well, he needs his own space. So we swung by the hardware store and the armoire was still there and Sam agreed that it would work well, so we brought that home. Basically, you never know what you'll find in the way of furniture here, but every once in awhile there's something useful to be found.

And this afternoon, as I was kicked back on the toolbox in the rear of my pickup, reading my library book, listening to the ravens, looking forward to the smoothies and hummus sandwiches Sam had gone off to find and waiting for the hardware store forklift to bring me the new armoire, I looked up at the mist lifting off the mountains in the late afternoon sunlight and smiled. I love living here.

Oh, and in totally unrelated news, there was another bear in the yard yesterday.


1 When I say the phrase "went to town to get supplies" it just sounds like the sort of thing some really far-flung bush dweller might say. But it *is* twenty minutes to town on a curvy, dirt road and we saw lots of harbor seals during the drive...